WHAT WAS THE PROBLEM?
Throughout London the last fifteen to twenty years of the 20th century
have seen a steep decline in the quality of library services. The previous
hundred years had been notable for the introduction and continual improvement
of universal education, the growth of public libraries, and the blossoming
of a range of social and cultural services. In recent years much of this progress
has been reversed. Libraries in particular have suffered repeated cuts in
opening hours, staffing, and bookstocks. In several boroughs closures have
left large areas devoid of library services, depleting both quality of life
and cultural standards.
WHY AND WHEN?
In response to these circumstances, and further severe threats to public libraries
all over the capital, LLL was set up in late 1999 as an alliance of London
user groups to be a concerted voice for library users Londonwide.
WHAT DO WE WANT?
We call for a comprehensive, high quality, well-managed, and accessible library
service for all Londoners: and we seek to emphasise the social, educational,
economic, and cultural importance to every section of the community. We want
to see libraries higher up the political agenda
WHY DO WE WANT IT?
TO FIGHT SOCIAL EXCLUSION Libraries are a major force in combatting social
exclusion. They often provide children's first experience of being
a citizen: of belonging to something, having a ticket, taking advantage of
a public service, having responsibilities. Children from the deprived concrete
estates and children from the leafy areas come on equal terms and mix happily
together. The under-fives services help to close the gap between children
from homes without books and others. It is a safe place where many children
are allowed to go on their own Books on parenting and dealing with crises
often make a difference.
Ethnic minority communities
can be well served by public libraries. Many of them value learning and education
very highly. Ethnic minority women feel safe and unthreatened and welcome
in the library and can be aided both by the availability of material in their
own languages and by help with their command of English. The same applies
to their children who may get access to dual language books.
For people in poverty
the library is a many-faceted resource. Many areas of London have high concentrations
of people on benefits who cannot afford books, newspapers, or computers. The
library offers all these, with newspapers being of particular importance to
the unemployed seeking jobs. The bookstock and other materials give the opportunities
to discover and pursue new interests. For people in cramped accommodation
who need to take their children out the library is the only interesting place
that does not cost money.
Elderly people read more
than most age groups and value their libraries. Isolated and frail elderly
people appreciate not only borrowing books which are their main pleasure
but enjoy the feeling of being part of the community which visiting the library
gives them. It is also a source of information about local meetings, courses,
or entertainment that is cheap or free.
The library provides information and guidance on lifelong learning opportunites,
it stimulates readers to want to take courses, and supports their studies
by providing background reading and reference material in all media. For all
these groups the library is important in lessening their degree of disadvantage:
an accessible service which does not involve using public transport [diffficult
to get on for the old, and expensive for families] or crossing fearsome main
roads is important and necessary.
THE PROVISION OF ALL
THESE LIBRARY SERVICES IS EXTREMELY LIMITED. IF THEY WERE MORE AVAILABLE LIBRARIES
COULD BE A REAL POWER FOR SOCIAL INCLUSION.
WHAT ELSE DO
NEW TECHNOLOGY We welcome the government initiative in promoting, and
to some extent financing, new technology in public libraries. In view of the
fact that there is already so much information that is available only on the
internet, and that many people cannot afford the hardware, we consider it
essential. We hope, however, that it will not be allowed to usurp precious
resources such as staff time, shelf and floor space, and quiet study areas,
from traditional library services. With the The ever growing
demand for electronic services has not in any way diminished the libraries'
obligation to provide a high quality book and periodical service. It should
be acknowledged that the library service's responsibilities have doubled and
adequate provision should be made.
WHAT COULD BE DONE
OPENING HOURS Opening times should cater for the working population and
for people who need to use the library in daylight, such as the elderly and
parents with young children. Lunchtime closing has been very unpopular, and
there is a big demand for Sunday opening. Libraries in London which are open
on Sunday are well-used. Most religious groups consider visiting the library
to be a suitable activity for the sabbath.
of library closures always bring fear and fierce opposition in equal measure.
Closures are certain vote losers. Where some London boroughs have closed libraries
they have left great swathes of territory where the resident communities have
no access to libraries. Easy access is essential.
BOOKSTOCK We are
concerned at the preponderance of cheap and 'popular' fiction and non-fiction
on the shelves, the dumbing down of the service. Quantity and number of issues
should not be the only criteria when stock is selected. Classics and literary
fiction should be available as they once were.
STANDARDS We look
for definable standards that are monitored and enforced. It is important that
user representation contributes to the setting and monitoring of standards.
Performance indicators should include levels of user satisfaction, and should
WHAT ABOUT PAYING FOR
We are in an age in which a nation's prosperity depends on a well-educated
workforce. Education, literacy, and lifelong learning are government priorities.
Libraries have an important role to play at pre-school and every other age.
The Secretary of State's street corner universities can be effective only
if properly funded. Funding the the public library service is a good investment.
It brings returns on capital in terms of the quality of the workforce. Even
the present run-down service is well used and much valued. It is the one elective
local authority service that is used by the whole community; people of all
ages, all levels of education, and all ethnic origins. Libraries are good
value for money, and lack of them causes additional burdens elsewhere - education,
social services, etcetera.
WE CONSIDER THAT CENTRAL
GOVERNMENT SHOULD BE RESPONSIBLE FOR ENSURING THAT PROPER FUNDING IS AVAILABLE
WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT
ANOTHER MONEY PROBLEM London has many commercial and business centres
where employees flock in each day and use local services. Libraries have a
statutory responsibility to cater for working populations but are not funded
through the SSA for the cost of doing so.
A PAN-LONDON VIEW
We should like to see the Greater London Authority take an active strategic
role in the provision of library services, in promoting co-operation, and
in preventing waste and overlap.
We welcome the recent setting up of the LLNG [London Learning Network Group]
which fulfils a recommendation in the Comedia report LONDON LIBRARY CITY
and the LPAC [London Planning Advisory Committee] report LIBRARIES
We also welcome the LLDA [London Library Development Agency] and its
extensive programme.. As far as we know the recommendation to give more prominence
to the economic, planning, and commercial importance of libraries has not
been put into effect.
WHERE DOES LONDON LOSE
One of the disadvantages London has suffered because of its local government
structure is that although it has rich and unrivalled library resources, particularly
in the non-local authority sectors, it lacks a beacon centre of public library
excellence such as the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, and Manchester and Birmingham
Now that our capital is a single entity with its own representation and personality
we should aspire to having such a central service.